Celebrating Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo — which means the "fifth of May" in English — is a Mexican celebration held annually, primarily in the state of Puebla, where the holiday is called El Día de la Batalla de Puebla — The Day of the Battle of Puebla.

Despite often being confused with Mexican Independence Day, which is actually the 16th of September, the date commemorates the Mexican army's unlikely victory under the leadership of General Ignacio Zaragoza Seguín over French forces at the Battle of Puebla on 5 May, 1862. In that famous battle, 4,000 Mexicans defeated a much better-equipped French army of 8,000 soldiers that had not been defeated for almost 50 years.

Although Mexico eventually lost the war to France, the victory boosted the morale of both the Mexican army and the Mexican people in general as it helped establish a much-needed sense of national unity and patriotism.

Ironically, Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico, but in the United States, it has become a fiesta for which beer sales eclipse both the Super Bowl and St. Patrick’s Day.

Here in the Cayman Islands, it is celebrated with an air guitar tournament as well as with Mexican food and drink.

So what exactly should you be drinking and eating as you celebrate General Zaragoza’s underdog victory nearly 160 years ago?

Well, you can avoid the Tex-Mex favourites of Taco Bell and its brethren for a start. Puebla is renowned for its traditional Mexican cuisine, and if you were there on Cinco de Mayo, you would find delights such as mole poblano, a sauce served over meats made from chilli peppers, cacao and numerous other ingredients, with family recipes often secretively passed down from generation to generation.

Chalupas, a local street-food sibling of the tostadas, are also a great antijito, which means “little craving." They are thick, fried tortillas with salsa, meats, onion and cheese.

And to drink? Well, tequila will be evident at any Mexican party.

Tequila is made by law only in certain parts of Mexico from the blue agave plant, which can take up to 10 years to grow before it’s ready for harvesting, cooking, fermenting and then distilling into tequila.

Despite the trend in the U.S. for barrel-aged tequila like añejo or extra añejo, most aficionados tend to appreciate the agave flavours in the blanco (unaged or aged under two months) or reposado, which is aged less than a year.

When drinking 100% blue agave tequila — which is really a must — before you reach for the lime and salt, it’s important to know that tequila is meant to be sipped, not shot. The Battle of Puebla may have been won with many shots, but Cinco de Mayo is best celebrated without a single shot!

Jim Wrigley is the beverage manager at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.

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This article appears in print in the April 2021 edition of Camana Bay Times.

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